I’d always avoided — more passively than actively — the 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes from TV director (and it shows) Anthony Page. I mean, what were the chances that it would even come close to the 1938 Hitchcock classic? The truth is, of course, that it is barely in the same universe — even while using virtually same script. That said, it’s not horrible — just rather pointless. I mean, why settle for an efficient copy when you can easily have the original? Well, to judge by some of the user “reviews” on the IMDb, the draw for some is Angela Lansbury. I’m afraid that’s not a draw for me. I’ll take Dame May Whitty in the original. Of course, there are those who will like it because it’s in color, but let’s not talk about them.
The best thing in it is easily Cybill Shepherd taking over for Margaret Lockwood. Anyone who’s seen Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love (1975) — no matter what they think of it — knows that Shepherd was made to wear slinky 1930s fashions, and this film works so that she wears the same white silk gown for most of its length. She’s also at home with 1930s dialogue and the way it’s delivered — something she probably learned from her years with Bogdanovich. (You just know he inundated her with Ernst Lubitsch movies.) She even pulls off the ditzy dame shtick to the point where you can believe she can’t tell a sheep from a cow. (Neither I guess could the property department, since they replaced the calf in the basket from the original to a pair of sheep here.) While some of the supporting cast are good, others are…well, not so good. Lansbury is a problem for me in general, because she always seems to be playing to the last row of the upper balcony. And the less said about Elliott Gould as a wisecracking 1930s character, the better.
The changes to the original screenplay are minimal. The bad guys are no longer from some unnamed country and are here presented as Nazis. The thriller aspect is strangely muted in the early scenes. Shepherd’s blow on the head comes from falling off a table (while doing an ill-advised Hitler impression) and not from a flower-box aimed at Miss Froy. Perhaps the biggest change is downplaying role of the bogus nun (Madlena Nedeva), this was probably done to give Shepherd something more active to do at the end. It’s all pretty much there, but the snap, the pace, the creativity — well, they’re on another train that left the station 41 years earlier.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Lady Vanishes Sunday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.